Friday, May 20, 2016

The Late Great Alan Young

Alan Young, the actor and comedian who will forever be remembered as Wilbur on the classic TV sitcom Mister Ed and the voice of Scrooge McDuck for the past 42 years, died yesterday at the age of 96

Alan Young was born Angus Young in North Shields, Tyne and Wear, England on November 19 1919. His parents were Scottish. The family moved to Edinburgh, Scotland when Angus was only a toddler. They moved to West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada when he was six. From when he was ten to about seventeen he was often bedridden with bronchial asthma. As a result he listened to radio shows, such as The Jack Benny Program, a good deal. He developed a talent for imitating accents. This talent led to him becoming a regular on the Saturday night radio show Bath Night Revue when he was 13. It was not long before he both starred in and wrote scripts for CJOR's programme Signal Carnival. Alan Young also played a wide variety of parts in CJOR's various radio dramas.

In 1942 Alan Young went to the CBC where he appeared on their programme Stag Party. Initially on the show for a 10 minute comedy spot, Mr. Young eventually appeared for the whole duration of the programme. It was in 1944 that he went to New York City to do a summer replacement show for The Eddie Cantor Show on NBC Radio. The Alan Young Show proved successful enough it became a regularly scheduled programme on ABC that fall. The show continued to air on ABC until October 1946, when it moved back to NBC. It was off the air in 1948, but returned for a final season in 1949 on NBC. The Alan Young Show was a situation comedy on which Alan Young played a timid, young man. His girlfriend was Betty, originally played by Jean Gillespie and later played by Louise Erickson. The legendary Jim Backus played  Hubert Updike III, an insufferably snobbish, playboy millionaire, on the show. In 1950 Alan Young was Jimmy Durante's sidekick on the final season of The Jimmy Durante Show.

Alan Young made his film debut while still performing on radio. In 1946 he made his film debut in the comedy Margie. In the late Forties he went on to appear in the films Chicken Every Sunday (1949) and
Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949).

It was in 1950 that Alan Young moved to television and CBS. The Alan Young Show was a variety/sketch comedy show that debuted on April 6 1950. Initially The Alan Young Show proved very successful in the ratings. It also won two Emmy Awards, one for Best Variety Show and one for Alan Young for Best Actor (both in 1951). For its final season The Alan Young Show changed formats as well as it title. Under the title Time to Smile it became a sitcom on which Mr. Young played a bank teller and Dawn Addams his girlfriend. It would revert to being a variety show for its last two weeks, but it was too late. The show was cancelled at the end of the season.

In the Fifties Alan Young guest starred on the shows General Electric Theatre, Screen Directors Playhouse, Star Stage, Studio One, Matinee Theatre, Chevron Hall of Stars, Studio 57, The Steve Alan Show, Five Fingers, Encounter, and Startime. In 1958 he once more briefly had his own show. Alan Young ran for six episodes on ITV in the United Kingdom. During the Fifties Alan Young also had a somewhat significant film career. He played the lead role in the films Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952) and Androcles and the Lion (1952). He played multiple roles (Charles Biddle, Mrs. Biddle, and Henry Biddle) in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955). In George Pal's Tom Thumb (1958) he played Woody, a friend of Tom's family. In The Time Machine (1960) Alan Young once more played multiple roles, that of David Filby and David's son James Filby. It was Alan Young who had the film's famous final lines.

The Sixties would see Alan Young appear in what its probably his most famous role. The sitcom Mister Ed was based on a series of short stories by Walter R. Brooks. An earlier pilot with Scott McKay playing Wilbur had failed to sell. After the show was sold into syndication it was retooled and recast, with Alan Young taking over the role of Wilbur Post (it had been Wilbur Pope in the unsold pilot) and Connie Hines cast as his wife Carol Post (Carlotta Pope in the pilot, played by Sandra White). On the show Wilbur was the owner of the horse of the title, Mister Ed, who could talk, but would only do so to Wilbur. Unfortunately Mister Ed was both mischievous and precocious and was constantly getting Wilbur into trouble.  Mister Ed was played by Bamboo Harvester and voiced by Rocky Lane.

Mister Ed proved successful enough in its first season in syndication that it was picked up by CBS as one of the network's new shows for the fall of 1961. While never a ratings smash, the show developed a loyal following while still in the air. Mister Ed was cancelled 1966, but went into syndication that fall, where it has remained ever since.

While still on Mister Ed Alan Young made a guest appearance on Death Valley Days in 1962. He played the lead role of Stanley H. Beamish in the pilot for Mister Terrific, but for whatever reason he did not appear in the series when it was picked up (Stephen Strimpell was cast in the part instead).  In 1967 he appeared on Broadway in The Girl in the Freudian Slip. The play proved to be a failure, closing after two nights. Alan Young then retired from acting. He became communications director for the Christian Science Church's Boston headquarters and he founded a broadcast division for the church.

In 1974 Alan Young returned to acting. For Disneyland Records he wrote and produced an adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol featuring Disney characters in the roles of Dickens's characters. As might be expected, Scrooge McDuck (also known as "Uncle Scrooge") played the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge. It marked the first time that Alan Young provided the voice of Uncle Scrooge. In the Seventies Alan Young would find further voice work in the animated series Battle of the Planets (an Americanised adaptation of the anime series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman), on which he played Keyop and 7-Zark-7. He provided various voices for the Hanna-Barbera series Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo. He guest starred on Gibbsville and The Love Boat and appeared in the TV film Black Beauty. He appeared in the feature films Baker's Hawk (1976) and The Cat from Outer Space (1978).

In the Eighties Alan Young continued to voice Scrooge McDuck, providing the voice for the character in the popular animated series DuckTales as well as the TV movies DuckTales: The Treasure of the Golden Suns and DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp. He also voiced him on the TV show The Wonderful World of Disney and the film Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983). He was a regular on the TV show Coming of Age. He provided the voice of Farmer Smurf on The Smurfs, the voice of the Cyclops Computer on The Incredible Hulk; and various voices on Rubik, the Amazing Cube; The Dukes; and Alvin & The Chipmunks.  He guest starred on This is the Life; The Love Boat; Down to Earth; St. Elsewhere; General Hospital; City and Murder, She Wrote. He provided voices for the TV movies Beauty and the Beast, Robo Force: The Revenge of Nazgar, and Alice Through the Looking Glass. He was the voice of Hiram Flaversham in the film The Great Mouse Detective (1986). He appeared in the film Platinum Blonde (1988).

In the Nineties Alan Young continued to be the one and only voice of Scrooge McDuck. He provided the character's voice in an episode of the animated series Raw Toonage, the direct-to-video film Disney Sing-Along-Songs: The Twelve Days of Christmas, the TV series Mickey Mouse Works, and the direct-to-video film Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas. He was the voice of  Haggis MacHaggis on The Ren & Stimpy Show. He was a guest voice on the animated TV shows Batman: The Animated Series, and Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man. He guest starred on the shows Doogie Howser, M.D., Party of Five, Maybe This Time, The Wayans Bros., Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, USA High, Kelly Kelly, The Tony Danza Show, Rude Awakening, Hang Time, and ER. He appeared in the TV film Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is. He appeared in the films King B: A Life in the Movies (1993) and Beverly Hills Cop III (1994).

The Naughts saw Alan Young continuing to voice Uncle Scrooge, not only on television, but in video games as well. He voiced Scrooge McDuck in the TV show House of Mouse as well as the direct-to-video films  Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas and Mickey's Around the World in 80 Days. He reprised his role as Wilbur Post on an episode of the animated series God, the Devil and Bob. He was also a guest voice on the cartoons Static Shock and Megas XLR. He guest starred on FreakyLinks and Maybe It's Me. He appeared in the films The Time Machine (2002) and Em & Me (2004).

Alan Young's last credit was the voice of Scrooge McDuck in two episodes of Mickey Mouse (one last year and one this year).

It seems quite likely that Alan Young will always be remembered as Wilbur Post on Mister Ed. There is perhaps good reason for that. It seems to me that Mister Ed has lasted over the years largely because of Alan Young as Wilbur as well as Bamboo Harvester and Rocky Lane as Mister Ed. Alan Young was brilliant as Wilbur, the friendly but often clumsy and too accommodating owner of Ed.  Alan Young and Mister Ed made a great comedy team, so much so that even when any particular episode might not be that good, it is still worth watching simply due to their performances.

Of course, Alan Young will also always be remembered as Scrooge McDuck. Prior to Alan Young only two men had voiced Scrooge McDuck (legendary voice artist Dal McKennon on the LP record Donald Duck and His Friends and Bill Thompson in Scrooge's first on screen appearance in the 1967 short "Scrooge McDuck and Money"). After Alan Young voiced Scrooge in 1974 no one else ever voiced the role. Quite simply, Alan Young made the part all his own. It is then perhaps fitting that Alan Young's last credit was Scrooge McDuck.

While Alan Young will always be remembered as Wilbur Post and Scrooge McDuck, he did so much more. He saw some success in feature films, playing beloved roles in both Gentlemen Marry Brunettes and The Time Machine. Well before his success on Mister Ed, he had a successful radio show and a successful TV show. As a comedian Alan Young had a sense of humour that was both gentle and intelligent, to the point that while his first TV show as on TV Guide called him "...the Charlie Chaplin of television."

The characters played by Alan Young were generally kind, humble, and friendly, if a bit shy. In many ways they were much like Alan Young in real life. His manager for over thirty years, Gene Yusem, said of Mr. Young, "He was an honest, decent man, a pleasure to work with and never a problem." Fans who had the opportunity to meet him always noted his kindness, gentleness, friendliness, and good humour. In interviews he was always humble and often self-deprecating. It seems possible that Alan Young might not have realised how great his contributions to television and radio history had been. After all, it is not every comedian and actor who can boast a successful radio show and two successful TV shows, not to mention played two well known characters. Alan Young was a pioneer in the early days of television and had a very successful career in film and television, as well as a highly successful career as a voice artist. His contributions to film, television, and animation are inestimable. While many actors might be famous for a time, I suspect Alan Young will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How to Complain to Instagram

It was only in March that Instagram announced that they would start organising posts in the app's feed by an algorithm. In their announcement on their blog, Instagram said, "We’re going to take time to get this right and listen to your feedback along the way. You’ll see this new experience in the coming months." While many, many Instagram users expressed outrage at the announcement, many of us took some solace in that Instagram was "...going to take time" and we wouldn't see it until "...the coming months."

Unfortunately in the past few weeks Instagram users around the world began noticing that their feeds were no longer in reverse chronological order. Last week Instagram users in the United States (myself among them) noticed that their feeds were suddenly no longer in reverse chronological order. As might be expected, there has been a good deal of outrage expressed to Instagram on Twitter and various other social media outlets. Many whose Instagram feeds are now apparently being sorted by an algorithm are very unhappy. In an article published two weeks ago Instagram told the website Bustle that they were "...testing the algorithmic update on a portion of the global community..." They also said that they do not have a date for when the feed sorted by an algorithm would be implemented across Instagram and they would let people know when it was. That having been said, given the number of complaints about Instagram on Twitter and other social media sites, one had to wonder if Instagram isn't testing a very large number of users or if they are actually rolling it out without letting users know that they are doing so...

Regardless of whether it's a test or Instagram is actually rolling it out to some users, many Instagram users are extremely angry that their feeds are no longer in reverse chronological order. It is a safe bet that many Instagram users whose feeds are now sorted by an algorithm would like to complain to Instagram. Unfortunately, Instagram does not make leaving feedback particularly obvious. Here, then, is a guide to how to complain to Instagram.

Before anything else I have to point out that if you want to leave feedback for Instagram, you'll have to do it from the app. For whatever reason you can't do it from the website. Anyway, to reach feedback you'll want to go to your profile in the app. Once you're at your profile you'll want to click on the three dots in the upper right hand corner. That will take you to the Options page, as shown in the picture below. From there you will simply scroll down to "Report a Problem" under "Support".

Once you click on "Report a Problem" there will be a little pop up listing "Report Spam or Abuse", "Send Feedback", and "Report a Problem". You'll want to click "Send Feedback".

Once you have clicked "Send Feedback" you will be taken to a page with a very long lists of things on which you can leave feedback. Fortunately "Home Feed" is at the very top of the page and already checked. Simply click the arrow in the corner and you're ready to leave feedback. While I realise many people are going to be very, very angry regarding their feeds, you should try to be as polite as possible. Speaking as someone who worked in customer service for years, polite people generally get better service than those who are rude. That having been said, you will want to state how much you dislike having your feed sorted by an algorithm and why you dislike it so much. You'll also want to be relatively brief. The shorter your message, the more likely they'll remember it. Quite simply, be polite, be firm, and be succinct.

Of course, there are going to be those people who are so angry that they simply want to delete their accounts. I really would not recommend doing this at this stage. If you delete your account then you stand the possibility of losing every photo you took on Instagram unless you have the option for saving them turned on, not to mention you will lose all of your followers. Besides, it is still possible that Instagram will reconsider implementing an algorithm or, if they do, they will give users a means of "opting out" the way that Twitter does. Unless you are simply a very casual Instagram user, I would then recommend not deleting your account. That having been said, if you are bound and  determined to delete your account, there is a way to do it. Here I have to point out that I have never actually deleted my Instagram account, so what follows is gathered from other websites. It could well have changed.

Anyway, oddly enough, unlike leaving feedback, which can only be done on the app, one can only delete one's account from the website. You can reach the "delete your account" page by clicking on "Edit Profile" and going to "Temporarily disable my account". Once you "temporarily disable your account" you will be given the chance to delete it entirely. In both cases ("Temporarily disable my account" and "Delete my account") there will be a list of reasons why you are doing so. Since "Feed Sorted by Algorithm" isn't one of them, I would recommend choosing "Something Else". Of course, once you delete your account you will want to uninstall Instagram from your phone or tablet.

At the moment it is difficult to tell what Instagram's actions are or will be. Right now they say that they are testing the algorithm, although it seems to me that it must be an awfully big test. Whether it is a test or a roll out on the QT, it would be a good idea for those of us who do not want our feeds sorted by an algorithm to make our voices known. Every time Facebook has tried to do away with the Most Recent feed, user outcry has forced them to bring it back. When Twitter announced a feed sorted by an algorithm, the furore caused by users was so great they had to make it an option. I rather suspect if enough people complain to Instagram, then they will have to keep a feed in reverse chronological available.

Monday, May 16, 2016

How I Became a Classic Movie Fan

Today is National Classic Movie Day in the United States. As its name would indicate, it is a day set aside to celebrate classic films. That makes it a bit of an unofficial, national holiday for classic movie buffs. It also makes it a time for classic movie buffs to reflect on how they became classic movie buffs.

 In my case I believe it was simply being born at just the right time. As an older member of Generation X I grew up in an era when local television stations still showed classic films. In those days sports had not yet overwhelmed weekend afternoons. On those Saturday and Sunday afternoons when there weren't American football or baseball games airing, our local TV stations would fill the time with classic movies. This is how I first saw several Abbot and Costello movies,  It Happened One Night (1934), Holiday Inn (1942), No Time for Sergeants (1958), many Charlie Chan movies, the whole Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone, and many, many others.

My childhood was also the Golden Age of independent stations, TV stations that had no affiliations with a network. Because they did not have a network on which to rely for programming, independent stations would fill their time with reruns of old shows, original syndicated programming, and, of course, classic movies. Classic movies formed a good part of the programming on KPLR in St. Louis when I was growing up. In fact, there were periods when they aired at least one a night. This was how I first saw King Kong (1933), Casablanca (1942), Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Maltese Falcon (1941), the classic Universal horror movies, Singing in the Rain (1952), Stagecoach (1939), and many others. In those days It's a Wonderful Life (1946) was still in public domain, so it was ubiquitous at Christmas time. I have no idea, then, where I first saw it, but it was on a local TV station.

On top of the local stations, when I was growing up the broadcast networks still showed movies. Each of the three networks (NBC, CBS, and ABC) had multiple movie anthology shows on each week. While they rarely showed classic movies on those movie anthology shows, they showed many more recent films that would come to be regarded as classics. It was through the networks that I first saw such films as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954); The Magnificent Seven (1960); It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963); The Dirty Dozen (1967); and yet others. Of course, the networks did show a few films that were clearly classics even then. Possibly the first classic movie I ever saw was The Wizard of Oz (1939). In those days it was aired once a year on CBS and was always one of the big events of the television season. It was also on network television (NBC, to be exact) that I first saw Gone with the Wind (1939). While the networks aired it, it was shown much less frequently than The Wizard of Oz was.

Sadly, neither the local stations nor the networks aired foreign films with any kind of frequency. Only KPLR in St. Louis would air foreign films with any kind of regularity. I have a very vague memory of KOMU in Columbia airing Divorce Italian Style (1961) one Sunday afternoon, but that is the only foreign film I remember them airing. The local stations, not even KPLR, also never showed silent movies except for the occasional Charlie Chaplin film. Fortunately, the Seventies was not only the Golden Age of independent TV stations, but the decade in which the VCR went on the market.

Of course, the introduction of the VCR led to the development of the video rental store. Most of the video rental stores here only carried the most recent films and a very small selection of classics, most of which I had already seen. Fortunately only thirty miles south was 9th Street Video in Columbia. 9th Street Video was a classic film buffs' dream. They had an incredibly huge selection, nearly all of it classic film. What is more they carried both Silent movies and foreign films. It was through 9th Street Video that I was able to see Seven Samurai (1954), La Dolce Vita (1960), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Crowd (1928), and many others for the first time. While the local stations in the Seventies generally only showed the most popular classics and programmers like the "Blondie" and "Bowery Boys" series, 9th Street Video had nearly everything. Its content alone would have prevented it from being shown on the local stations, but it was through 9th Street Video that I first saw Blowup (1967). Sadly, 9th Street Video just closed last month after decades in business.

Sadly, sports would eventually overwhelm weekend television and the independent stations slowly lost their independence. Video rental stores would disappear from the landscape. It would seem that many members of  Generation Y (people between 23 and 37 years of age) and nearly all Millennials (people between 7 and 22) would not experience classic film the way that younger Baby Boomers and all of Generation X had. Fortunately there was cable television. American Movie Classics was founded in 1984, while Turner Classic Movies was founded in 1994. TCM in particular would serve as an introduction to classic films for many members of Generation Y and many Millennials.

By the time TCM was founded one would think there was very little that TCM could show that would be new to long-time classic film buffs (Gen X and older). Fortunately, this was not the case. Because of their content Pre-Codes beyond a very few (the Universal horror movies, and so on) were rarely seen on local stations in the Seventies and Eighties. And while 9th Street Video had an incredible selection, they also had very little in the way of Pre-Code movies. Beyond various classic horror movies, prior to TCM I had seen very few Pre-Codes (Scarface, 42nd Street, and various classic horror movies). Now I can not only say that I have seen plenty of Pre-Code films, but it is also one of my favourite eras of film.

Ultimately I really think I was born at precisely the right time. I am just old enough to have seen many classic and soon-to-be classic films on television and rent them through video rental stores. Of course, I suppose this is also true of younger members of Generation Y and the Millennials. Turner Classic Movies, as well as streaming services and releases from the Criterion Collection and the Warner Archive have made classic films available to them in a way that they haven't been in years. While the independent TV stations and video rental stores that were so pivotal in my development as a classic film buff may no longer exist, it would then seem we will still have new generations of classic film buffs for years to come.